Sunday, March 22, 2009

Few inmates' lives end with execution

Sam Cook

Mentioning the death penalty is like spitting grain alcohol on a fire.

The reactions of folks are immediate, impassioned and volatile.

"It bothered me to read that former slave states account for nearly all recent and planned U.S. executions,'' death penalty opponent Mary Lynn Canton of Fort Myers wrote in an e-mail to Gov. Charlie Crist. "That gave me a chill thinking about it. It should you, too.

"Stop signing these barbaric warrants.''

Capital punishment raised its controversial head March 5 when jurors recommended life in prison instead of death for Bonita Springs double-murderer Fred Cooper.

Cooper, 30, was convicted of killing Steven and Michelle Andrews in their Gateway home in December 2005. Judge Thomas Reese sentenced him to three consecutive life terms Monday.

Before Cooper became Lee County's most notorious murderer, there was Kevin Foster, the ringleader of the Lords of Chaos. Riverdale High dropout Foster killed band director Mark Schwebes, 32, in 1996 to avoid detection of vandalism by Lords of Chaos punks. Foster, 31, was sentenced to death in 1998.

One day after Cooper was whisked away to South Florida Reception Center in Dade County to prepare for his next residence, Foster's attorneys appeared Friday at a hearing before Judge Edward Volz Jr. to make a public records request in an 11-year appeal to save Foster's life.

The average length of stay on death row is 12.31 years prior to execution, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Paul Kalil is trying to find evidence of investigative or prosecutorial misconduct to file for post-conviction release.

The state Supreme Court upheld Foster's sentence in 2000.

Are Foster's lawyers grasping at straws?

"They're doing their job,'' said Assistant State Attorney Lise Plattner, who handles post-conviction cases. "There is going to be an extensive search for any other type of evidence that may not have come out in the original trial.''

For all the hoopla the death penalty conjures up, few inmates are executed.

One so far in 2009, two in 2008 and none in 2007. Twenty-six of the 67 total executions since the penalty was reinstated in 1976 came in 1984, 1990, 1998, 2000 and 2006.

In "Florida Defender'' magazine, Pete Mills, assistant public defender in Bartow, addresses a bloated death row.

"Even if execution increased to 12 per year, no less than 35 years would be needed to execute the current population,'' he wrote. "This number does not take into account ... people who would be newly sentenced to death or those who would die of natural causes while waiting.''

Nationally, the statistics favor death-row survival, says Dudley Sharp, death penalty resources director of Justice For All, a pro-death penalty advocate.

"Imposition of the death penalty is extraordinarily rare,'' he wrote. "Since 1967, there has been one execution for every 1,600 murders, or 0.06 percent.''

Opponents argue death-penalty inequity.

"The death penalty should be applied consistently - regardless of socioeconomic background, race, religion or gender,'' said reader Cassia Parker of Estero.

Her gender mention raises a curious question.

There are 393 prisoners on Florida's death row.

How many are women?


Tiffany Cole, 27, was sentenced March 6, 2008, in Duval County for her part in a double murder of a Jacksonville couple that was buried alive.

Of the 392 men incarcerated Friday, 239 are white, 140 are black and 13 are listed as other.

Which begs the question: If men outnumber women 392-1, are judges and jurors impartially doing their job with the death penalty?

1 comment:

dudleysharp said...

Obvious solution: Improve the system.

Virginia executes in 5-7 years. 65% of those sentenced to death have been executed. Only 15% of their death penalty cases are overturned. The national averages are 11 years, 14% and 36%, respectively.